Hunt the Slipper

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Very amusing first foray into the writing of Violet Trefusis. From the first sentence, you knew you were in capable hands, introducing us to Molly Benson and her brother Nigel, 50 and 49 years old respectively, living together companionably. Molly, proud of her brother’s insomnia. “It set him aside as a superior being. Like Nietzsche, he only obtained by violence what was given others freely.” Despite his age, Nigel is quite the ladies’ man, collecting and breaking hearts of twenty-five-year-old women. Molly coerces him into joining her to visit their neighbors and meet the new wife, Caroline, who sulks and is bad mannered during their visit. When the Bensons run into Caroline again in Paris, she is transformed… by love for a Chilean man who is accompanying her and her husband. Nigel is besotted and begins to lose his heart to her.

The Chilean waits for Caroline at a bar in Paris: “He was pleasantly surprised at her unpunctuality: was her technique improving at last? He glanced at his wristwatch. A quarter of an hour late: in another ten minutes he would be in love with her.” She has shed her husband, is free for a few days in Paris without him. They make a date for dinner, which he later breaks when a more fabulous woman insists on him taking her to dinner. Caroline is heartbroken when she later sees the two of them kissing in a cab. Nigel consoles her, and takes care of her when she comes down with the flu, cementing their relationship in friendship with bolts of current under the surface. Nigel heads to Italy with Molly, Caroline back to England. Letters pass, Caroline decides she does love Nigel. When all are back in England, they begin their affair (it helps that Nigel lost a ton of weight due to stressing about the relationship and getting tan in Italy). They sneak around behind her husband’s back, using Molly as a beard. Caroline insists that they have to tell Anthony, but then he gets gravely ill and they keep the lid on about their relationship. In London, Caroline then runs off with another man, calls Anthony to ask for a divorce, sends Nigel a letter that he locks away as he considers suicide. Five days go by, and he decides to read the letter. She says she’s using this other guy as a ruse, that this is the only way Nigel will run away with her, if she’s already set things in motion, but that he’s to come to her within 3 days or she really will run away with the other guy. Brilliant!

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Violet Trefusis best known now as Vita Sackville-West’s girlfriend (Virginia Woolf also one of those). For some reason I’d never explored her work, but it was on my list after the pushy Alastair Cooke character at Trotsky lecture recommended it.